Bamiyan has excellent traditional Afghani cuisine

December 4, 2008

By Jim Feehan

More than 5,000 years old, Afghan culture has absorbed the best of many of the cultures it has come into contact with through the ages.

Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and, more recently, the Taliban regime, have left their mark on Afghanistan. Through it all, Afghanis held true to their roots and created culinary traditions of their own.

Almost all Afghanis have a cylindrical tandoor (clay) oven in their home and kebabs have been mentioned in Afghani literature for centuries. An excellent example of Afghani cuisine can be found at Bamiyan Restaurant.

Located in the historic Gilman Village, Bamiyan is named in honor of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two enormous statues carved into sandstone cliffs in the central Afghan town of Bamiyan, on the ancient Silk Road that linked East Asia with Europe.

The famous road provided a trade thoroughfare that introduced spices and food traditions across continents and cultures.

When owner Amir Sabour Mohajer opened Bamiyan in 2002, a year had passed since Afghanistan’s ruling government, the Taliban, destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan. He commissioned a beautiful woodcarving of the Buddha statues to hang outside the restaurant, as a reminder of their former glory. At the entrance of the restaurant, black-and-white photographs of the statues show the grandeur of the sandstone carvings that were larger than Mount Rushmore’s in South Dakota.

The restaurant features Afghan and Persian selections. Bamiyan servers arrive at your table with separate menus for each cuisine so diners can mix and match, or stick to one region.

While I focused on the Afghan menu, its Persian counterpart has some delicious options, too. For starters, the Persian must-o khiar ($4.50), a simple yogurt sauce with diced cucumber and chopped mint is a pleasing appetizer.

Another favorite is the Persian fesenjon ($8.95 lunch/$12.95 dinner), a zesty roasted chicken entrée coated in a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate juice and served with basmati rice.

The Afghan menu offers no shortages of meat entrées, but many of them also have vegetarian counterparts.

The ashak ($13.75/$12.75 meatless) is such a dish. The lunch price is $9.99.

The half-moon shaped dumplings are filled with an all-green mix of chives, green onions, parsley and cilantro, topped with tomato sauce thick with ground beef, striped with yogurt sauce and sprinkled with dried mint. The vegetarian version offers meatless tomato sauce.

Afghan salata, a small salad of chopped cucumber, tomato and mint in a bright lemon marinade comes with all entrées.

For grilled meat lovers, kofta kebab ($7.99 lunch/$12.50 dinner) is a great place to start. The minced beef is molded around the skewer and seasoned with onions, cilantro and jalapeno before grilling. It’s especially good when dipped in yogurt-garlic sauce.

The Murgh kebab ($7.99 lunch/$14 dinner) combines tender pieces of chicken breast marinated in saffron, ginger, garlic, a touch of cayenne pepper and yogurt.

The Qorma-I Murgh ($8.99 lunch/$13.75 dinner) features chicken breast in plums spiced with saffron, cardamom and ginger, served in a bowl of yellow sauce. It is served with a wonderful rice side dish with hints of cinnamon, raisins and saffron.

The attractive, casually sophisticated restaurant featured walls painted in olive and saffron. Two other walls consists of garage doors that lift to expose an outdoor patio. Tapes of Persian music play softly in the background. The service is professional, with servers taking the time to explain dishes and seasonings.

American palates will find Bamiyan’s delightful food subtly yet exotically seasoned with coriander, cumin, cinnamon and fresh cilantro. The menu includes vegetarian fare (eggplant, dumplings, potatoes and spinach) as well as meats (lamb, chicken, and beef). Dishes carry the right complexity of spices to tingle the tongue, but not to overwhelm.

Bamiyan will delight diners with its Afghani specialties. Visit the wonders of Bamiyan when planning your next dining excursion.

If you go

Bamiyan Restaurant  Afghan and Persian cuisine

317 N.E. Gilman Blvd.
391-8081
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Entrées cost from $7.95 to $18.95 for lunch, and $11.95 to $18.95 for dinner.

Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or jfeehan@isspress.com.

Restaurant reviews are a regular feature of The Issaquah Press. Reviewers visit restaurants unannounced and pay in full for their meals.

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